Best Car for a Professional Dog Walker?

FIDO Blog

FIDO Blog | May 13, 2016

Dear Car Talk Pet Experts:

I'm a dog walker and I want to replace my old Volvo v70 with something a little newer. I loved the wagon, but it was a little too short for some of my bigger charges.

I'm looking for something that can accommodate up to five or more dogs for short trips around town, but nothing as huge as a van. Thanks for any advice!

-- Louise
Jacksonville, FL

This method is not advised. (Faith/Facebook)

Dr. Sip: Well, the good news is that in our professions, we know a few dog walkers. We reached out to a few of them to help us out with your question. 

Melissa: Most dog walkers and play group professionals recommended a hatchback. The seats fold down which utilizes the interior space better than a sedan. The RAV4 seemed to win the “the car dog walkers want or have” category. My friend Donna of Donna's Do Right Dogs in Weymouth, MA, had this to say: “I love my RAV4! It's bigger than it looks. I work at a shelter and our running joke is we have a RAV4 parking section because so many of us have them.”

Dr. Sip: I have a Honda CR-V and it works fine for my two dogs. It has many of the same features of a RAV4, which may be appealing to dog walkers. The main difference I can think of is the back opens UP rather than from the side.

Whatever you buy, it's gotta be better than this.

Melissa: I bought a new vehicle when I was dog walking many years ago. I really loved the Jeep Compass - I went to see the car and felt like I had to buy it because my Chevy truck died in the parking lot of the dealer. (Talk about getting every last mile!) There were two things that I quickly discovered were issues with this particular Jeep model and I mention this as a cautionary tale.

First: We had a greyhound, and while the crossover was roomier, it wasn’t roomier in the ways we needed. His shoulders, even with the back seats folded down, touched the ceiling. So though it was bigger, it wasn’t “taller."

Second: The hatchback feature opened UP, allowing for an opportunity for some smaller dogs to zip out before you have them secured. This also goes to our point that all dogs ideally are secured in a moving vehicle, but I see lots of dog walkers who do not have the pets secured (we hope your charges are always crated or harnessed). In the event of a failed harness or a dog who opens a crate, you’d want a hatch that opens to the SIDE.

Dr. Sip: My dog-walker friend, Sabrina, emphasized gas mileage, gas mileage, gas mileage. So she would love a hybrid or electric next time she gets a new car.

Melissa: Gas mileage was important to Jordan of Neighborhood Paws in Somerville, MA. She loved her 2007 Nissan Versa because it was zippy, easy to park, great for walking dogs in a city environment. She upgraded to a larger car, the Jetta SportWagen which she likes. She mentioned it was roomy, and was the only car she could find in her search that was “larger than a hatchback” and also “not an SUV.” It’s not a hybrid, but it is small enough that she gets better gas mileage than some of the bigger SUVs that other dog walkers recommended.

Dr. Sip: And while these are all great suggestions, most of these cars will need some modifications in order to be safe for dogs, as well as comfortable. A couple of our dog walker friends did mention putting up a barrier between the front and the back to protect human snacks from getting eaten as well as preventing dogs from distracting the driver. Officially, Melissa and I have to recommend safety-tested seatbelts or crates for all dogs in cars, but we have to admit that in the real world, this may not be practical for the majority of dog walkers.

"Seat belts on guys, we're going to the park!"

Melissa: Right. Either it’s cost prohibitive to invest in a half-dozen $600 crates, or they would need a Greyhound bus to seat-belt and move these dogs. Your friend, Denise, mentioned four vehicles in particular if one were to get a vehicle large enough for crates.

  • Honda Element (You can hose down the interior. Remember our piece on dog puke? Yeah, hose-off-able is a bonus!)
  • Astro Van
  • Nissan Van
  • Tacoma Truck with Shell (Also great for easy cleaning!)

But Louise did mention she didn’t want a van, so without resorting to the tried-and-true Romney method, how does one move a herd of puppies?

Dr. Sip: Well, another dog walker friend, Katherine, stated that once the dogs know each other, they all huddle in a tight group. So her point was she didn’t need a lot of side-to-side room with her setup. She said her priorities were gas mileage and maneuverability. She picks up dogs in the city, but then drives them up into the hills, so when she’s doing pick up, it’s all about the city driving.

What's that you say about huddling up? (Amy/Facebook) 

Melissa: The bottom line for you, Louise, is what kind of driving do you? In my city, many dog walkers take dogs to fenced in parks for exercise. People are not allowed to have more than three dogs in parks at a time for safety reasons. Plus, they need to navigate in and out of tight parking spaces to pick up and drop off. As a result, the vehicles they select would serve a different function than someone in Dr. Sip’s neck of the woods.

Dr. Sip: The dog walkers in my area typically have six dogs at a time, which is closer to your "five or more," Louise. They aren’t in fenced dog parks so much as up in the walking trails of the hills of Berkeley and Oakland. So if parking and gas mileage are less of a concern than space for your charges, we'd go with what the majority of our dog-walker friends recommend--a RAV4.

Melissa: The bottom line is to use your best judgment. Good luck, and let us know what you decide on. We'll leave you with this story from MSN from Missouri about a person who needed to move some dogs but did not use the best judgment...

(Independence Police Department)

If you have a question for Dr. Sip and Melissa, write them at Car Talk Plaza. The weirder, the better. More about Melissa (who wrote ‘Considerations for the City Dog’) and Dr. Sip (who is a practicing veterinarian in Berkeley, CA) can be found here.


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